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September 02, 2010 | David
The community we have been calling "webseries" is struggling with identity. I have some thoughts.
“Stop f#@king making derivative bullsh#t… Stop making short TV or short films and putting it online and calling it online entertainment. You’re not making online entertainment. You’re making short TV and short films that’s cheap to produce and it looks cheap. There’s a better competitor in that marketplace. It’s called regular TV...”
- Barrett Garese (see the full video here: www.twitvid.com/ZMY9B
Barrett’s webseries tip-of-the-day ( www.twitvid.com/ZMY9B - which went live way back in May) has been causing significant controversy recently in the webseries/online creator community. I want to start by saying this is good - Barrett’s a thought leader (ugh - did I just write that phrase?), and it’s his job to challenge all of us to push ourselves and our work to be the best it can be. And I think it’s largely because we all acknowledge that Barrett’s smart and insightful that this video has stirred us up so; if we didn’t all respect him so much, none of us would care what he thought.
But is he right? Should we all be racing to take his advice? Well, yes and no. Before you dismiss this as a wishy-washy response, let me clarify:
Barrett’s statement assumes that his listener/viewer is someone who is desirous to create “online entertainment”; that being a producer of quality online entertainment is that viewer’s goal. I think, for that viewer, Barrett is right. If a creator’s ultimate goal is to be a pioneer of online entertainment, then it is important to do something, well, pioneering. I’m not certain what Barrett’s vision of “online entertainment” is, but it’s clear that in his mind, the best of it will be something that could only be possible online, both in form and content.
And that last clause, “both in form and content” is key. If you look at the webseries world (or webTV or webisodes or online indieTV or INDTV or whatever you want to call it), you’ll see a lot of shows which, because of their content, would probably not exist (or at least never be distributed) were it not for the internet. GOLD, my satire sports soap opera about professional role playing gamers, fits solidly in that category. In that sense, my little TV show is only possible online - it seems highly, highly unlikely that any traditional studio or production company would have produced such a niche show, much less distributed it. The target market would be perceived to be too small. Thus, that content is probably only possible thanks to the internet.
But, after a successful first season online, GOLD is now available on DVD. This is only because the form is very much in-line traditional television. It can be shown offline in many formats - on DVD, for instance, or in a movie theater. So GOLD does not fit Barrett’s challenge of true online entertainment because, while the content probably doesn’t get made without the internet, the form is very traditional.
Where Barrett is wrong, in my opinion, is in the underlying assumption in his tip: that we want to be pioneers in online entertainment.
For most of us currently making indieTV and distributing it online (most, but not all), what we really want to do is make movies and/or television. Our underlying drive is to be writers or actors or directors of movies or television. And so, thanks to the level playing field that is the internet, we make our movies and television and distribute it in a way we never could until just a few years ago. Some of those shows, like GOLD, would have no likely home in the traditional TV market, despite having found a robust, engaged audience online. Others, like, say, the Bannen Way ( www.crackle.com/c/The_Bannen_Way ), would fit perfectly in the traditional TV market (and soon will be reborn there as a traditional TV show), but the creators were untried and the web was their perfect proving ground. I firmly believe that a lot of what we’re seeing right now is not a new form of online entertainment - it is simply the a growing independent television movement. If we can find value in the independent film culture, in the short film culture, can we not see value in an independent television culture?
When I look at the webseries world, this is what I see. The best of us are making great television, we’re just showing it online. We’re giving underserved audiences shows that couldn’t be made otherwise, and we’re proving ourselves as writers and directors and actors and showrunners in a scrappy, independent marketplace. We’re indie, and we’re TV.
Of course traditional television is stiff competition for us - overwhelming competition, in most ways - how could it be otherwise? But that’s no reason to stop pursuing the storytelling form we find compelling. Telling an indie TV creator to start making, well, whatever form this online entertainment beast will become, just because the traditional TV competition is too steep, seems out of line. I don’t want to make [insert name for the new form here] right now, any more than I want to write video games or bake cakes or paint murals. I want to make TV. Until I can do that in a grander way, I’ll make TV indie-style, scraping for the funds indie-style, and distributing it indie-style. Hell, even if I manage to claw my way into my desired career, I’ll probably still make indieTV, using the ideas whose content does not fit that more traditional model. Maybe I’ll make [new thing] someday. But right now I’m interested in film and TV.
Rather than whipping ourselves into a frenzy over Barrett’s perfectly sound advice, I believe a creator should ask him or herself plainly, “what am I trying to make? Am I trying to make a TV show, and the web is the best current distribution option for my show?” If the answer is yes, then in my opinion Barrett’s advice simply doesn’t apply.
But if you are a creator out there saying to yourself, “I want to make something amazing - I want to harness the power of the internet to create a storytelling experience simply not possible prior to right now,” then Barrett is right. Don’t waste your time making indieTV. Make whatever that other thing is.
I, for one, am excited to see it.